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From D.A. Carson’s book, Love in Hard Places (bold and italicized emphases mine):
Not all Christians face persecuting enemies, but all Christians face little enemies. We encounter people whose personality we intensely dislike—
– an obstreperous deacon or church leader
– a truly revolting relative
– an employee or employer who specializes in insensitivity, rudeness, and general arrogance
– people with whom you have differed on some point of principle who take all differences in a deeply personal way and who nurture bitterness for decades, stroking their own self-righteousness and offended egos as they go
– insecure little people who resent and try to tear down those who are even marginally more competent than they
– the many who lust for power and call it principle
– the arrogant who are convinced of their own brilliance and of the stupidity of everyone else
The list is easily enlarged. They are offensive, sometimes repulsive, especially when they belong to the same church.
It often seems safest to leave by different doors, to cross the street when you see them approaching, or to find eminently sound reasons not to invite them to any of your social gatherings. And if, heaven forbid, you accidentally bump into such an enemy, the best defense is a spectacularly English civility, coupled with a retreat as hasty as elementary decency permits. After all, isn’t ‘niceness’ what is demanded? . . .
In many instances, what is required is simply forbearance driven by love. No one puts it more forcefully than Paul:
‘Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Col. 3:12–14)
To bear with one another and to forgive grievances presupposes that relationships will not always be smooth. Most of the time, what is required is not the confrontation of Matthew 18, but forbearance, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, or patience. Christians are to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15). . . .
That brings us to three reflections.
First, this loving of awkward people, first of all those within the household of faith but then also outsiders, is sometimes grounded not on God’s providential love (as in Matt. 5:43–47), but on a distinctively Christian appeal. . . . ‘Forgive as the Lord forgave you’—a frank appeal to the Christian’s experience of grace.
Second, in practical terms this love for ‘little enemies’ is sometimes (though certainly not always) more difficult than love for big enemies, for persecuting enemies. . . .
Third . . . there is a frankly evangelistic function to Christian love …
Preach it, Dr. Carson!
And here’s one more link that might prove helpful/encouraging for any of us who are facing some “difficult people” in our lives:
(I think this is my all-time favorite CCEF article. If I could staple it to my head—or better yet, inscribe it on my heart, I would!)
Our family has been profoundly blessed by Megan Hill’s book on prayer:
It was my joy to write a whole-hearted endorsement of this excellent book. If you would like biblical encouragement and motivation—as well as practical, real-life helps—for your prayer life, look no further! Megan’s book is a treasure.
So you can imagine, then, how honored I was to receive her (very supporitve) endorsement of my latest book: Redeeming Church Conflicts. I will copy the entire endorsement below, but first I just wanted to say a personal thank you to Megan.
Megan, you have encouraged me in our writer’s group, blessed me personally during my time serving your women at your recent retreat, and even now, though I am shaking-in-my-Keds as I stumble my way through your husband’s Reformed Theological Seminary course on “The Gospels,” I am being built up in my inner being and strengthened with power through God’s Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3). Plus, the footnotes in the readings alone are delightful!
You (and your family) have been and are a genuine encouragement to me, Megan. You pour courage into my heart. Thank you! Thanks so very much, Megan.
For the glory of the Lamb—
Your sister in Christ,
*************MEGAN HILL’S ENDORSEMENT OF “REDEEMING CHURCH CONFLICTS” *************
“To someone in the middle of a church conflict, the complex knot of spiritual and material issues, contributing factors, and personalities can appear impossible to understand, let alone untangle. As emotions rise and hope sinks, everyone in the church experiences distress, and, amid the confusion and hurt, a positive path forward often seems unclear.
In Redeeming Church Conflicts, experienced conciliators Tara Klena Barthel and David V. Edling offer a warm, biblical, and careful roadmap for navigating church crises. Through exposition and application, they bring the truth of God’s Word to direct suffering churches toward healing. Through practical case studies, they illuminate the way with specific examples.
Perhaps surprisingly for a book about sin and its fruits, these pages are also filled with hope.
Through the words of Barthel and Edling, church members and leaders will begin to see their conflicts as opportunities for growth, grace, and the glory of God. And whether your church is currently in the midst of strife or proactively seeking to avoid it in future, this book is an excellent guide.”
-Megan Hill, pastor’s wife, pastor’s daughter, writer, speaker, author of Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer in Our Homes, Communities, and Churches (Crossway, 2016)
Angry people are sometimes sinfully angry; and sometimes angry people are fearful people who have no idea how frightened (and frightening) they are.
Avoidance of duties may be sinful laziness and sloth, but sometimes it can be genuine exhaustion that comes from our trying (consciously or unconsciously) to stomp down and avoid deep grief and pain.
Some of us are sinfully proud and foolish re: receiving criticism; but some of us want to listen to criticism and want to be readily teachable and growing in wisdom, but the graceless criticism of today sometimes presses on a shaming memory with such ferocity that even we are shocked by how quickly and high we “jump” or “kick” emotionally in response.
Like the shock of having a deep bruise or fresh surgical sutures knocked into, sometimes a color. A scent. An image. A touch. One specific word may tip us into a valley of despair and darkness that has very, very little to do with our present circumstance. Sometimes, our seemingly out-of-proportion reactions are God’s gracious way of helping us to understand and address complex pain in our complex hearts (i.e., what the Bible describes as our mind, soul, or inner man).
For me, this week, I have had repeated opportunities to turn to the Lord with intimate cries for help, gratitude for his covenantal love, and increasing hope and assurance from his Word, because wow! Did I initially overreact to my daughter’s suffering tied to high fevers.
Yes, yes. Our family is currently dealing with the gunk of a bad virus, just like so many other families in our community. No, this is not “terrible suffering” like the “real suffering” of people in much-more-serious circumstances. But yes, this is “terrible suffering” and “real suffering” for our life circumstance, for this day, for this season. It’s exhausting to have high fevers day after day, night after night. It’s miserable to be sick and it’s miserable to be the mom who can’t protect her child from being sick.
But for me, Tara Barthel, this normal, not-too-dramatic, suffering-related-to-a-child-having-a-little-virus/bug has a layer of pain related to it that has absolutely nothing to do with 2016 and everything to do with specific memories from my childhood (in the 1970’s). Why does this matter? Because as soon as my husband and I recognized that I wasn’t just exhausted from being up all week with my sick child, I was also grieving anew a past suffering, we—Fred and I—could take a few extra steps to be sure we were not only ministering to our child, we were caring for me, too.
Thankfully, it only took us a few days into our daughter’s illness to recognize that her sleep disturbances were reminding me of some of my worst childhood night terrors, sleeptalking, sleep-moaning-and-crying-out-for-help-weeping, and sleep walking right out of my childhood home.
(I can still taste those nightmares from 35+ years ago! Adrenaline really does have such a searing effect on memories.)
Every time my daughter’s fever went into the 104 range this week, I wasn’t just trying to determine if the ice-pack on her forehead was sufficient or whether we should put her into a tepid bath, I was also vividly flashing back to the hard metal tubs with the clanging latches that were both the instruments of my torture and my rescue in the emergency rooms of my childhood.
(If you haven’t had bags of ice poured onto your 105+ degree’d body, it may be a little hard to understand the confusion and terror of being a five year-old shaking uncontrollably from being SO hot and SO cold at the exact same time—and wondering why the grownups in the room “weren’t helping.” They were, of course, helping. But it sure didn’t feel like it at the time.)
No, I wasn’t undone by these memories this week. They were mostly just revving in the background of my days and nights of typical maternal concern and care. But last night, Fred wisely urged me to tuck into the bed in our tiny basement (far away from our daughters’ room), entrust the every-two-hour-medicine schedule to him, and sleep. Cry if I needed to. Pray. Turn off the hypervigilance-momma-meter and just rest.
I am grateful that Fred was sensitive to not only the normal difficulties of this week, but also the deeper layers of pain related to my past experiences. I truly think that we would all be wise to try to remember that people’s actions and reactions may have elements that are tied to complex, past pain. To quote a passage for Peacemaking Women:
We often experience suffering on two different levels. The pain from the current situation may ‘tap into’ our past experiences …
When our experience of pain seems disproportional to the actual situation we are in, we need to look deep into our own hearts to see if a life-forming trauma might be surfacing in the current conflict. Sometimes we may even need help to do so because our pain may cloud our vision and make it difficult to see clearly. Grief and despair, while rooted in past hurts, can be reflected powerfully in current circumstances and present suffering.
Of course, even as we seek to gain wisdom and insight about our complex pain, our suffering never gives us an excuse to sin. God calls us to honor him regardless of our past or present circumstances. As David Powlison reminds us, ‘Knowledge of a person’s history may be important for many reasons (compassion, understanding, knowledge of characteristic temptations), but it never determines the heart’s inclinations.’
Amen & Amen!
What JOY there is in knowing that one day, in Glory, there will be no more tears and no more grief; no more sin and no more unbelief. No more pain! When we see the Lord with unveiled faces (2 Cor 3:18), we will be like him. Oh, how I long for that day!
But in this life, God has sanctified us (definitive sanctification) and he is sanctifying us (progressive sanctification). One aspect of our growth in grace is learning to lament — to grieve with hope. For complex, deep pain? This grieving may feel like the peeling of layers of an onion … in his perfect timing (which we often don’t understand at the time), God lovingly helps us to peel back the layers of our sorrow or grief so that we can experience an even deeper sense of His presence, goodness, wholeness, and Shalom.
One day, in Heaven, the “onion” of pain will be gone forever and completely because our suffering will be over. But in this life, we grow and change. This life is often a life of complex grief. Fear and faith. Risk and pain. Risk and love. “Not health, but healing; not being, but becoming” to use the language of Martin Luther.
Please know, friends, that I am praying for you great hope and great comfort as you grieve and lament the complex pain of your lives.
God really is always working together all things for his glory and our good. Even—nay, especially—the painful things. Oh, that we would have eyes to see and ears to hear! That we would “understand with our hearts, turn, and be healed” (Matthew 13:15) by the One True, Triune God.
Sending my love—
There is a wonderful book coming out on this very topic in just a few short weeks now: “A Heart Set Free – A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament”, by my dear friend, Christina Fox.
Great wisdom from Cap’n Dave over at RedeemingChurchConflicts.com today:
A. You can be God’s instrument in redeeming your church’s conflicts by humbly depending on the Holy Spirit and following the biblical principles revealed in Scripture.
Every church conflict can be redeemed because every church conflict can be used for genuine spiritual growth, both individually and corporately within the body of Christ. Christ can use you to redeem your church’s conflict—regardless of how other people respond, even if you are only one lay member out of hundreds or even thousands, even if you are only one leader out of many. You can be God’s instrument in redeeming your church’s conflicts by following the biblical principles revealed in Holy Scripture—in humble dependence on the Holy Spirit.
Church conflict is complex. The various causes of church conflict, the personalities involved, the church’s polity, and the level of spiritual maturity among leaders and members will raise questions that no one book or biblical model could possibly address with specificity. Therefore, be carefuland pray as you seek counsel from church leaders and members about the application of this book and various Scriptural passages to your church’s specific situation. By seeking counsel from wise and spiritually mature Christians, all of us will hopefully avoid using any part of this book as a weapon to hurt others or fulfill any sinful demands we might have. Plenty of biblical peacemaking principles have been taken out of context and forced on others in loveless and selfish ways. We pray that will never be the case with this Acts 15 model. Instead, we pray that our efforts in this book will encourage and guide Christians and their churches in redemptive responses to conflicts—responses that are based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Theologian Dr. Dennis Johnson hits the nail on the head when he writes:
In Scripture the starting point of instruction on right behavior is not a list of our duties, but a declaration of God’s saving achievement, bringing us into a relationship of favor with him.
(c) Tara Barthel & David Edling, “Redeeming Church Conflicts” (first edition, Baker Books, 2012; second edition, Hendrickson Publishers, 2016) www.RedeemingChurchConflicts.com
If we don’t interact in real life or on Facebook, you may be slightly concerned about me, since I am currently not blogging on a regular basis.
Please don’t worry about me! 🙂
I am doing very well, but just busy writing for publication, preparing for my busy fall speaking season, and living real life.
If you are in search of a few things to read, I highly recommend these two articles. The first one has stuck a particularly strong note with my Facebook followers—and, yes, with me. (As always, I am only recommending things that helped me. A lot.)
- Childhood Trauma Leads to Lifelong Chronic Illness: So why isn’t the medical community helping patients?
- Some Things You Should Know About Christians Who Struggle with Anxiety
Blessings and joy,
I also have a personal post over at the PCA Women’s Blog, enCourage:
LiveBlog of The 2016 Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference – General Session 7: John Piper – A Shepherd and A Lion
LiveBlog of The 2016 Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference – General Session 5: Don Carson – Sharing Christ’s Sufferings, Showing His Glory
Live Blog The 2016 Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference: Don Carson – Sharing Christ’s Sufferings …
LiveBlog of The 2016 Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference – General Session 4: Mary Willson – Following Jesus Far From Home
LiveBlog of The 2016 Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference – General Session 2: Jen Wilkin – Living A Resurrection Life
Live Blog The 2016 Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference: Jen Wilkin – Living a Resurrection Life
LiveBlog of The 2016 Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference – General Session 1: Kathleen Nielson – Born Again to a Living Hope
Live Blog The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference: Kathleen Nielson – Born Again to a Living Hope